Anuhya, Kelly, Amulya

From right, Anuhya Kakumanu of Eden Prairie, Kelly Swanson of St. Paul and Amulya Kakumanu of Eden Prairie read the stories of people who died after drunken driving and distracted driving crashes. The posters were displayed at the 2018 Raksha 5K Run/Walk For Distraction Free Driving.

Cell phone use while driving will only be legal through voice commands or single-touch activation starting Thursday, Aug. 1.

In other words, cell phones are no longer permitted in drivers’ hands. This is because of the hands-free law which passed during this year’s legislative session.

“There are many things you can do under this law,” said Col. Matt Langer of the Minnesota State Patrol. “You can talk on the phone, you can use the phone as a GPS and you can compose a text under this law. But, all of those things can only be used in hands-free mode.”

Supporters of the law hope to see the same results the dozen other states that have established the hands-free law have seen: A decrease in traffic fatalities by 15%, on average.

Between 2014 and 2018, over 60,000 Minnesota crashes were related to distracted driving, according to the Department of Public Safety. The crashes constituted nearly 20% of car crashes in the state.

In 2013, a texting while driving law came into effect in Minnesota. In its first year, 2,177 citations were issued. In 2018, 9,545 citations were issued.

Some details of the law:

  • Breaking the law is a primary offense. If an officer sees a driver violating the law, the driver can be stopped for a ticket or warning.
  • The penalty for the first hands-free violation is $50, in addition to court fees adding up to a $130 total.
  • Tickets after the first ticket are $275, plus court fees.
  • Hand-held use is OK if there is an immediate threat to safety and the driver has to get a hold of emergency assistance.
  • Cell phones can be tucked into head scarves/head wraps, but cannot be removed from the wrap while driving.
  • The law also applies to watches, tablets, e-readers, and other similar devices.
  • Drivers may not video call, live stream video, use Snapchat, game or watch videos or photos stored on the phone, use non-navigation apps, read texts or scroll or type on the phone.
  • GPS and navigation systems are OK, the Department of Public Safety says, because the systems lock when the vehicle moves.
  • Listening to music is OK, but scrolling through playlists or channels is not.

Langer said the State Patrol has been reaching out to local and county agencies to educate people on the new law and how it will work.

The same communication has been the work of Director Mike Hanson at the Office of Traffic Safety. The office has been using billboards, social media and gas pump toppers to communicate the hands-free message to communities across the state.

Robust messaging is necessary for this law, Hanson said.

“It’s a huge behavioral change,” he said. “And it’s time for Minnesotans to change their driving behavior. Don’t wait for Aug. 1. Make the change today.”

A local advocate for the law was Eden Prairie resident Vijay Dixit, chair of the Shreya R. Dixit Memorial Foundation. The foundation is named in honor of his daughter, who was killed by a distracted driver in 2007. He feels comfort and other, mixed, emotions about the passing of the law.

“I wish that kind of law existed when Shreya was lost more than 11 years ago,” he said. “The thing that has hurt me the most was, although my daughter was lost in 2007, since that time, hundreds more have been lost.”

The implementation of the law is one piece to distracted driving puzzle, he said. The other two components are education, and awareness of the gap between driving behaviors of the 1960s and 1970s and modern technology.

“It is a collective responsibility of the community — of you and me,” he said, “to make this law a success.”


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